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THE RIOT THAT NEVER WAS
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The riot that never was
11.30 - 12noon,
Thursday 16 June 2005
A Priest and a panic
Programme Details
Thursday, 16 June
11.30-12.00 noon
Daily Express headline denouncing the broadcast.
In January 1926, 12 years before Orson Welles's infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, the BBC sparked a national panic of its own...


It broadcast a 12 minute report of a murderous riot in central London, which turned out to be a spoof, masterminded by a literary Catholic priest.

This feature tells the so far untold story of the broadcast, puts it in historical context and explains its significance in the history of broadcasting.

Significantly Lord Reith cared more about reaction from listeners than what the press or Government thought. This at a time when the BBC's independence was uncertain, and the BBC was seen by press as a threat.

The Story

On January 16, 1926, one Father Ronald Knox, a catholic priest, interrupted an apparently genuine BBC talk on 18th century literature with a report that Big Ben had been toppled by trench mortars, the Savoy Hotel torched, and a Government minister lynched.

The Russian revolution was then less than a decade old, the General Strike already in preparation.

In this febrile atmosphere, many took Knox's satire seriously, besieging the BBC with worried phone calls. Bad weather delayed delivery of the next day's papers, giving rural listeners prolonged reason to assume the capital was in flames.

The BBC made several announcements later that evening that the progamme had been 'a burlesque' but these assurances went largely unheard

Listen again to Ronald Knox's ten rules of detective fictionListen to Ronald Knox's Ten Rules of Detective Fiction
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